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No Spanish driver had started a Formula 1 race for almost a decade when Adrian Campos made his debut in a Minardi M187 in the 1987 Brazilian Grand Prix.

While he did not enjoy a long career as a Formula 1 racer, he proved instrumental in promoting a new generation of Spanish drivers to the sport. His proteges include two-times world champion Fernando Alonso, who returns to the sport this year.

Aided by the backing of his family, owner of a major food conglomerate, Campos raced in Formula 3, finishing third in the German series in 1985. Following a single season of Formula 3000 in Peter Gethin’s team, Campos arrived in F1 at Minardi with sponsorship from Lois Jeans.

His career began inauspiciously. In his first race weekend at Jacarepagua he was fined $3,000 for failing to stop at the weigh bridge when told to. Having qualified 16th he took up the wrong position on the starting grid and was disqualified.

Campos raced in F1 for Minardi in 1987 and 1988

Car trouble more regularly put an end to his efforts, though he suffered concussion after crashing in Monaco and was unable to race. His best result came on home ground at Jerez, where he took 14th, his only finish of the season.

The following season proved more of a challenge as the expanded field meant not every car entered was guaranteed a place on the starting grid. After failing to make the cut at consecutive races in Monaco, Mexico and Canada, Campos lost his place at the team to Pierluigi Martini.

He moved on to tin-top racing, enjoying success in Spain’s touring car championship in the mid-nineties, winning the title in 1994. He also raced sports cars, but a one-off entry into the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1997 ended in disappointment, his Pilot Racing team’s Ferrari 333SP retiring after just 18 laps due to a loss of fuel pressure.

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He enjoyed greater success as a team boss. His eponymous squad aided the arrival of further Spanish talents into Formula 1, including one who quickly emerged as a star of the future. Alonso was just 18 years old when he won the Formula Nissan series with Campos, and within two years followed the same route into F1 with Minardi.

Aitken reached F1 after winning in F2 for Campos

Alonso described the news of Campos’s death today as “one of the saddest days for the motorsports family”. Marc Gene, who also won the Formula Nissan championship with Campos on his way to F1, said he felt “enormous sadness” at learning of his death. “Without Adrian Campos, I would never have reached F1.”

Campos moved his team into GP2 when the new official Formula 1 junior series was launched in 2005. Among those who raced for him in lower categories was his son Adrian Campos Jnr.

In 2009 Campos took up the opportunity to enter his team into Formula 1 under the name Campos Meta. However the project struggled for funding and was sold to Jose Roman Carabante, who eventually entered the series under the name HRT. The team lasted three years before folding.

Meanwhile Campos continued in GP2 and, later, Formula 2, aiding a succession of further drivers into Formula 1 including Vitaly Petrov, Lucas di Grassi and, just last year, Jack Aitken.

The news of his passing at the age of 60 from a heart condition prompted a widespread outpouring of sympathy.

“The whole Campos family and racing team feel his terrible loss,” read a statement from his team, “but also the immense privilege to have worked alongside a man as courageous and innovative as Adrian.

“Motorsport was the way of life of Adrian: his determination and human quality will forever be the model and reference for each and every one of us.”

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